An Alexandria-based design firm is working on plans for a multimillion-dollar upgrade to Charlottesville’s West Main Street, but a final set of blueprints will not be available for well over a year.
“We anticipate the construction document phase to be completed around March or April of 2018,” said Carrie Rainey, the city’s urban design planner.
Rhodeside & Harwell has been working with the city since October 2013 to create a plan to transform West Main by widening sidewalks, placing utility poles underground and planting new street trees.
Since the City Council approved the firm’s conceptual plan this past March, the company has been working on a “schematic design.”
“Schematic design drawings illustrate the scale and relationship of all the project components and are based on detailed survey work,” said Alexander Ikefuna, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
This preliminary design is just the second of four phases before the project can be put out to bid.
The third phase is “design development” and the fourth is the final construction documents.
“Design development drawings begin to illustrate and describe the design’s character, materials, component sizes, critical dimensions, general constructions techniques,” Ikefuna said.
The city will pay Rhodeside & Harwell $1.37 million for the first two phases. It is not yet known what the fee will be for the third and fourth phases.
The development of the West Main streetscape concept took place at the same time several large buildings were constructed on the road. These range from the University of Virginia’s new children’s hospital at the west end to a six-story Marriott Residence Inn at the east.
Plans are in motion for several other new buildings, including an apartment complex at 500 W. Main and an apartment building being marketed to students at the current site of Republic Plaza.
On Tuesday, the Board of Architectural Review will hold a work session on a proposed hotel at 501 W. Main. Previous plans submitted by architect and developer Bill Atwood had called for either office space or residential space.
On a smaller scale, the owners of the Dinsmore Inn at 1211 W. Main have embraced the spirit of the streetscape project.
Earlier this month, the BAR approved a plan to demolish a side-porch to make way for a commercial kitchen to allow for the opening of a café. Outdoor seating will be installed on West Main Street and in a small terrace at the rear of the bar.
The two Federal-era townhouses that make up the Dinsmore Inn are among the oldest buildings in Charlottesville.
“The property at this address has been a bed and breakfast for more than 20 years,” owner Ryan Hubbard said earlier this month. “It is in its 14th year as the Dinsmore Inn.”
Hubbard and his wife, Denise, plan for 150 seats of both indoor and outdoor café seating in part to take advantage of West Main’s evolution.
“The vibrancy of the University Corner essentially ends at 13th Street,” Ryan Hubbard said. “Our block of the precinct is several hotels, several administrative buildings, a church and a closing furniture store. We believe in rehabilitating this property and opening it to the community we will enliven this block of West Main Street.”
A previous cost estimate to implement the entire West Main plan is about $30 million, though that number likely will change as the construction documents are completed.
The City Council has allocated $10 million for the project over the next five years to go toward design and construction, though only the current fiscal year’s allotment of $3.5 million is guaranteed.
Rainey said the city is applying for additional funding through the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale prioritization process for sidewalks, bike lanes, bus stops and lane improvements, such as widening West Main’s intersection with Fourth Street Northwest to allow buses to turn onto that road.
“We are hoping to procure other additional funding from Smart Scale and other federal and state sources,” Rainey told members of the Planning and Coordination Council in mid-August. The PACC consists of top officials from the city, Albemarle County and UVa.
At that meeting, Councilor Kathy Galvin took the opportunity to raise the question of whether UVa could help contribute to the streetscape’s cost.
“[West Main] connects to a World Heritage Site, a flagship university and one of the most successful pedestrian malls in the country,” Galvin said. “It really is a major benefit to the university as well.”
Galvin suggested UVa might contribute to the cost of public safety improvements.
University officials said they wanted to know the extent to which other property owners along the road will be expected to contribute.
City Manager Maurice Jones said one possibility could be to develop a business improvement district, but that is still preliminary.
“We haven’t even had that discussion with folks on West Main Street and I am not sure we have enough businesses that would generate enough revenue,” Jones said.
Galvin said further redevelopment often can be jumpstarted by infrastructure improvements.
“We’re also talking about the Amtrak station, as well, and the additional railroad line, which again is a mutual benefit for both the university and the city,” Galvin said. “We’re getting the improvement in place. At some point, we need to get serious about what is the shared benefit of this.”
UVa officials had little to say at the PACC meeting.
“We’re happy to have the conversation but we just need more information about the costs,” said Pat Hogan, the university’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.